Close your eyes. Imagine you're at a masquerade ball swathed in candle -light and black lace and all the guests around you are wearing blue jeans. Enter the haunting piano and pure vocals of Paul van Kampen, whose side project The Magnetic North takes you on a journey through a musical underworld where you can almost smell the gnarled wood panels on the wall and the worn leather suitcase clutched in your hand.
You might recognize the van Kampen name from local staple Beija Flor, who disbanded earlier this spring. Brothers Stephen and Paul van Kampen now pursue their own musical ends, under two different names, Savk and The Magnetic North, in two radically different musical styles.
Last Saturday the brothers were reunited for a show at the Marquee Room, with Stephen performing as Savk and Paul performing with The Magnetic North.
Still a fairly new concept, Paul shares that The Magnetic North has officially been on the indie rock scene in Calgary since November 2009.
"[Beija Flor] disappeared for a long time and decided to go out with a big bang and have a big show," he says. "The Magnetic North kind of overlaps into that time period towards the end of 2009. That's when I recorded and put out my demo."
What's important to note here is that the stories of Beija Flor, Savk and The Magnetic North are inseparably intertwined.
"Beija Flor was just a big stepping stone towards getting to where we really wanted to get with music," says Paul. "Steve put it a really good way the other day -- there's a lot of fat that I needed to have trimmed off of what I was trying to do."
Stephen van Kampen agrees that it was difficult for an individual's sound to come through.
"Beija Flor was six people, so it was really busy all the time. Paul's songwriting demanded a little more minimalism on everybody else's part so that Paul's primary parts of piano and voice could shine through a little bit better. There was almost too much crap going on that his songs just weren't being represented correctly."
It's not that the van Kampen brothers regret their time in Beija Flor, but Paul definitely sees a decided difference in the music he played then and the music he plays now.
"Beija Flor was where I cut my teeth . . . there were a lot of really great things going on, but there were a lot of jewels that were sinking down to the bottom of the ocean and now we're lifting those jewels up," Paul says. "Virtually all the songs that I started The Magnetic North with are just backburner Beija Flor songs. Minimalist is the big key. It's not complicated."
Beija Flor played a big role in Paul's development as a musician and after they split, he knew exactly where he wanted to take his new band and exactly what kind of fan he was trying to attract.
"If someone really appreciates music, they're going to gravitate towards good songwriting and good songs in general. So my fan base is going to be music lovers -- people who really love music," said Paul. "Turning on a record and listening to it in the basement by themselves, those people, I think, will come. And they're coming already."